Who was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865)?


Proudhon, who was born in 1809, was a French philosopher, metaphysician, anarchist, free thinker, economist, and the father of an alternative economic Weltanschaung which is neither based on socialistic nor capitalistic principles. Proudhon, who is highly underrated, is one of a few thinker who really influenced my Weltanschaung. Proudhon was highly intelligent, that’s one reason, next to many others more sinister, why his ideas did not succeed, many simply could not conceive his theories. Fallowing Proudhon, social and economical chaos is the only reason for the existence of government, in the dissolution of economical contradictions, the cause for the economical chaos and it’s social consequences, Proudhon saw the mean to arrive at social justice and in extension stability.

Proudhon believed in a direct relationship between reason; available intelligence in relation to the capacity to make use of it, and liberty, fallowing Proudhon, liberty may only be attained and increased in a sustainable way in harmony with reason, the amount of liberty attainable, in individual and social context, is determined by the absolute level of reason, an increase in reason connected with an increasing capacity for liberty; “summa lex summa libertas” (the fullness of liberty lies in the fullness of reason)

“If employers of labour were offered money-capital at half the present rate of interest, the yield of every other class of capital would soon also fall to half. If, for example, interest on the money borrowed to build a house is less than the rent of a similar existing house, or if it is more profitable to bring a waste into cultivation than to rent similar farmland, competition must inevitably reduce house and farm rents to the level of the reduced interest on money. For the surest method of depreciating material capital (a house, a field) is obviously to create and operate additional material capital alongside it. But it is a law of economics that increased production increases the mass of available money-capital. This tends to raise wages and finally to reduce interest to zero.”
— Proudhon: What is Property ?

“Whatever the pace of mechanical progress; though machines should be invented a hundred times more marvellous than the mule-jenny, the knitting-machine, or the cylinder press; though forces should be discovered a hundred times more powerful than steam, — very far from freeing humanity, securing its leisure, and making the production of everything gratuitous, these things would have no other effect than to multiply labor, induce an increase of population, make the chains of serfdom heavier, render life more and more expensive, and deepen the abyss which separates the class that commands and enjoys from the class that obeys and suffers.”
— Proudhon, “The Philosophy of Misery”

“The abolition of unearned income, of so-called surplus-value also termed interest and rent, is the immediate economic aim of every socialistic movement. The method generally proposed for the attainment of this aim is communism in the shape of nationalisation or socialisation of production. I know of only one socialist – Pierre Joseph Proudhon – whose investigations into the nature of capital point to the possibility of another solution of the problem. The demand for nationalisation of production is advocated on the plea that the nature of the means of production necessitates it. It is usually asserted off-hand, as a truism, that ownership of the means of production must necessarily in all circumstances give the capitalist the upper hand when bargaining with the workers about wages – an advantage represented, and destined eternally to be represented, by ” surplus-value” or capital-interest. No one, except Proudhon, was able to conceive that the preponderance now manifestly on the side of property can be shifted to the side of the dispossessed (the workers), simply by the construction of a new house beside every existing house, of a new factory beside every factory already established.

Proudhon showed socialists over fifty years ago that uninterrupted hard work is the only method of successfully attacking capital. But this truth is even further from their comprehension to-day than it was in Proudhon’s time.

Proudhon, indeed, has not been entirely forgotten, but he has never been properly understood. If his advice had been understood and acted on, there would now be no such thing as capital. Because he was mistaken in his method (the exchange banks), his theory as a whole was discredited.

How was it that the Marxian theory of capital succeeded in ousting that of Proudhon and in giving sovereign sway to cornmunistic socialism ? How is it that Marx and his theory are spoken of by every newspaper in the world ? Some have suggested as a reason the hopelessness, and the corresponding harmlessness, of the Marxian doctrine. “No capitalist is afraid of his theory, just as no capitalist is afraid of the Christian doctrine; it is therefore positively an advantage to capital to have Marx and Christ discussed as widely as possible, for Marx can never damage capital. But beware of Proudhon; better keep him out of sight and hearing! He is a dangerous fellow since there is no denying the truth of his contention that if the workers were allowed to remain at work without hindrance, disturbance or interruption, capital would soon be choked by an over-supply of capital (not to be confused with an over-production of goods). Proudhon’s suggestion for attacking capital is a dangerous one, since it can be put into practice forth-with. The Marxian programme speaks of the tremendous productive capacity of the present-day trained worker equipped with modem machinery and tools, but Marx cannot put this tremendous productive capacity to use, whereas in the hands of Proudhon it becomes a deadly weapon against capital. Therefore talk away, harp on Marx, so that Proudhon may be forgotten.”

This explanation is plausible. And is not the same true of Henry George’s land-reform movement ? The landowners soon discovered that this was a sheep in wolf’s clothing; that the taxation of rent on land could not be carried out in an effective form and that the man and his reform were therefore harmless. The Press was allowed to advertise Henry George’s Utopia, and land-reformers were everywhere received in the best society. Every German “agrarian” and speculator in corn-duties turned single-taxer. The lion was toothless, so it was safe to play with him, just as many persons of fashion are pleased to play with Christian principles. “

– Silvie Geselll: The Natural Economic Order (Die naturliche Wirtschaftsordnung)

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~ by metadave on June 3, 2007.

One Response to “Who was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865)?”

  1. […] possible solution for the economical […]

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